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The wisdom of being Amur

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It was not just amazing scholarship, but also an innate goodness and ethical consciousness that made GS Amur who passed away recently a teacher and critic who everyone admired

“Never react impulsively, these are strategies to provoke you into a parochial debate. Those of you who have read me will always understand, I need not write a rejoinder.” More than a decade ago, deeply disturbed by an article labelling him as a “critic from the colonial era” I called up Professor G S Amur and briefed him of the details, requesting him to offer a rebuttal. Calm, collected and undisturbed as ever, Amur gave me what was wisdom for a lifetime.

Teacher, writer, translator and critic, Amur’s career spanned over seven decades. Born into a family that struggled to make ends meet, in a remote village of Bommanahalli in Haveri district, Gururaja Shyamacharya Amur, would sleep in the village temple at night for want of space at home. A weak eyesight did not come in the way of his appetite for voracious reading. Amur started off reading Sanskrit classics before entering the realms of Kannada and English literature. At Karnatak College, Dharwad, he happened to meet Sriranga, V. K. Gokak and Armando Menezes who were his teachers. The association lasted for life. Amur would actively edit the college magazine and write poetry in English. As a student, he published a farewell speech of his beloved Principal, Correa Affonso: “When the sunset of life comes, let it be as soft and gentle as the sunsets of Dharwad”. Affonso’s words struck a chord with young minds, kindling a lifelong love for Dharwad.Amur topped every examination he took. One of the awards from the University of Bombay was a set of classics with specially embossed coat of arms. Amur requested for a cash prize instead. He was in dire need of money for spectacles to read and study. He neither complained nor grumbled about his poverty. At a young, impressionable age, he had attained a state of equanimity.He approached Dr. V. K. Gokak for his Ph.D. and Gokak suggested he research on “the future of the epic.” Amur, however, was more interested in exploring Comedy and found a willing mentor in Professor Armando Menezes, Head of the Department of English, at Karnatak University, Dharwad. Amur happily typed away his thesis on his good old typewriter on sheets of Radio Bond Austrian paper (popular during the 60s and 70s), while teaching English Literature at JT College, Gadag. Whenever he brought the typed pages for discussion to the University campus, he would be intercepted by Professor KJ Shah. Shah had returned from Cambridge with an MA in Philosophy under the tutelage of Ludwig Wittgenstein. Wrangler Pavate, the then Vice-Chancellor of Karnatak University, had appointed Shah as Professor and Head of the Department of Philosophy. Rooted in Analytical Philosophy and Logical Positivism, Shah would grill research scholars and nudge them to think deeper. No wonder, Amur’s PhD thesis not only went on to become one of the finest treatises on the concept of Comedy, but continues to be in print and much cited sixty years after it was written. From Kumta to Gadag, Dharwad to Aurangabad, Amur left an abiding influence on legions of students.After he retired as Head of the English Department at the Babasaheb Dr. B. R. Ambedkar University in Aurangabad in 1985, he returned to Dharwad for a life of quietude that enabled him to concentrate on Kannada writing. All his life, he rejected administrative posts to focus on teaching, research and writing. “Janaki” his home at Navodayanagar, Dharwad became a hub of intellectual activity. Poets, novelists, critics, research scholars and teachers would gather around Amur for enchanting discussions over endless cups of tea and coffee. “Amma” as we affectionately called the late Shanta Amur, was a maternal figure in our lives. The very first chapter of Amur’s autobiography in Kannada centres around her. After her passing away in 2014, I would often spend many days at his home. I used to sleep in the room that was usually reserved for students and guests. Amur Sir would knock at my door early in the morning. “I am up Sir!” “Good Morning, Manjunath, I have a glass of hot milk for you.” He would elaborate on the Krishna-Arjuna dialogue from the Mahabharata or the Yama-Nachiketa dialogue from the Kathopinashad or the Maitreyi-Yajnavalkya dialogue from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad while I sat mesmerised, taking sips from the glass of milk. Amur would quote characters from the classics as if they were his best friends!Every year, I visited him on Vijayadashami in Dasara, to offer banni leaves as gratitude to the great teacher. Amur would offer Banni leaves in return, along with a story from the Mahabharata. With Amur’s passing away and Dasara fast approaching, I feel a void in my life. With the wisdom that he carried, I would like to believe that the Banni tree is symbolic of this great teacher himself — vast, timeless and profound.


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